This is the latest in a series of blog posts in which I’m looking at results from this year’s Welsh Election Study. As I have explained previously, the voter study component of WES asked a representative sample of respondents a series of open-ended questions about the issues that most concerned them.
In this post I’ll look at responses to the second such question. After previously asking people what they considered to be the ‘single most important issue’ facing Britain, this second question asked WES respondents what they regarded as the ‘single most important issue’ facing Wales. What did they say in response to this?
Aggregating the responses together, here are the ones mentioned by the greatest number of people. (Note: percentages listed are percentages of those respondents who answered this question, not of the entire sample).
Economic issues: 35%
Don’t Know: 18%
Other Issues: 12%
Devolution/The Assembly: 3%
This set of responses is clearly very different to those for the ‘most important issue facing Britain’ question. These differences may, in part, be accounted for by the format of the pre-election wave survey: as indicated above, we asked the question on Wales straight after that on Britain. Some respondents may have felt that they needed to say something different in response to the Welsh question (although large numbers clearly did not).
Nonetheless, clearly this question about Wales elicited very different responses. In the Welsh context, economic issues were collectively rated as the most important priority by more than a third of those WES respondents who answered this question. The specific issues raised were across a wide-range; they included very particular matters like the problems of Tata Steel, as well as more general issues such as jobs and the standard of living.
The NHS and other health issues were the second most commonly-mentioned issue. This makes a lot of sense – the NHS is what the Welsh Government spends a large proportion of its budget on, and several parties were determined to make health a major issue in the Assembly election.
Another striking feature of the results for this Welsh issue question, however, was the large number of Don’t Know responses that we obtained – almost double the proportion that gave this response to the equivalent ‘British’ question. This may, again, reflect the survey format – some people saying Don’t Know because they couldn’t think of anything different to say from their response to the British question. But it may well also reflect the lower levels of information and engagement with Wales and Welsh politics amongst at least a proportion of the Welsh population.
Only two other areas were mentioned by more than three percent of the WES sample who answered this question. Both immigration and the EU might seem like very strange things for people to mention – after all, the devolved level of government has no competence over either. But note that the question simply asked people about the most important issue facing Wales – not the Welsh Government, nor ‘in the Welsh Assembly election’. So it is perfectly reasonable that some people might regard either immigration or the EU as the biggest issue facing Wales. However, far fewer people named either of these concerns in response to our Welsh question than did for the British one.
As with my previous piece about the British question, I thought it would be a good idea to examine responses to this question across supporters of the different parties. The following table, therefore, lists the issue areas mentioned by those WES respondents who went on to vote for each of the five largest parties on the constituency vote.
(A reminder: figures in the table should be read downwards, so the table does not show that 21 per cent of those who mentioned immigration as the most important issue voted for UKIP. Rather, it shows that of those who voted UKIP, 21 per cent mentioned immigration as the most important issue.)
What perhaps stands out most of all from this second table is the distinctiveness of UKIP voters’ issue concerns. They had a significantly lower – though very far from non-existent – degree of concern with economic issues. Meanwhile here, as for the British question, they are almost off-the-scale compared to supporters of other parties in terms of their level of concern with immigration. Other differences between party supporters are mostly smaller, although Labour voters do appear to have been particularly concerned with the economy, and Conservatives with health-related matters.
Finally, and again following exactly the format of the previous blog post, I thought it would be interesting to look at responses to the follow-up question WES survey asked immediately after asking people to list the ‘most important issue’, where respondents were asked to name the party best able to deal with whatever issue that they had identified. I’ll list here the parties named by those who listed the economy, health, and immigration, as the most important issue facing Wales (with parties not listed here being those named by fewer than 1% of the relevant respondents.)
So, for those who indicated that some economic issue was the most important one, which party did they think was best able to address that concern?
Don’t Know: 31%
Plaid Cymru: 14%
For those who listed health as the most important issue:
Don’t Know: 32%
Plaid Cymru: 10%
Finally, for those who listed immigration:
Don’t Know: 27%